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Monthly Archives: December 2012

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As you may already know, Hispaniola is an island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The eastern half, the DR, is not only my home but also for obvious reasons my primary birding and photography destination. When I started with this obsession for birds, I wanted to read and learn as much as I could as fast as I could. And as anybody who an interest in any of our 30+ endemics or hundreds of resident and migrating species, the best place to start is the Field Guide to Birds of la Hispaniola. This is how I began.

The book is a very complete account of all birds observed on the island. It will give you a quick and broad scope of all the possibilities of species and habitats available as well as great illustrations on almost all of them. Of course the most bright and colourful species are the ones everyone, including myself, wants to start with: Hispaniolan Trogon, Broad-billed Tody, Antillean Bullfinch and so on. You never have good-enough photos of this species…  But after a while, when they become not-so-hard to find, the thirst of new discovery comes back. So every once in a while I go back to the field guide and I try to choose a species I have not seen yet. Like the case of the Northern Pottoo. Which I have not yet observed even after many night drives around the island and failed expeditions to sites that were supposed to be “sure-things”.

That saturday I went out with Miguel Landestoy, who along with Nicolás Corona, whom I haven’t met yet, I consider the two top birders on the island. Miguel and I headed north-east in search of one of the few birds he hadn’t seen yet and I hadn’t even heard of.  That sole fact should tell you a bit of how rare this bird is in Hispaniola. We started at marshes and swamps in Monteplata with no luck. We drove around dirt roads in the area and stopped at any little spot of grass in the wetlands nearby in hope of spotting the Spotted Rail (Pardirallus maculatus). This bird was discovered in Hispaniola in 1978 and to the best of my knowledge it has only been spotted a few times after that and even though I haven’t seen any photographs I know the great dominican photographer Pedro Genaro was able to take some good shots few years ago. I am unaware of any more photos taken in Hispaniola, but if they exist, they are only a few.

We were about to call it a day when we stopped at one final lagoon and went in knee-deep into the water chasing after some Purple Gallinules when a quick small shadow flew by after making a quirky gutural sound. And there it was, a fleeting glimpse of the elusive Spotted Rail. That was the last we saw of it. But I was hooked on the challenge and determined to get the shot.

A week later I went back. Prepared with proper equipment I arrived before dark and went into the water. I made sure my camouflage was good enough and waited silently. There was a Belted Kingfisher perched just over my head and I had to pull all my strength not to alter the stillness of the water by photographing it. After all, is one of my favourite birds. There were plenty Purple Gallinules around as well as a couple of Limpkins. But patience paid off and this elusive bird came out of the tall grasses and walked right by me as it snacked on apple snail. It would suddenly freeze and look around, feeling that something was strange that morning but without being able to pinpoint exactly what. I stayed in the water for nearly four hours and was able to get some decent shots of the least observed and photographed bird on the Hispaniola and some pretty cool shots of the Purple Gallinules,  the birds that unknowingly helped us find a true feathered treasure.

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_MGL8790I try to do at least 3 photography trips a year. Between getting permissions from the wife, the job and the cashflow, 3 trips is all I can do in one calendar year, but also 3 are enough to satisfy my minimum requirements of adventure in my everyday corporate life.  So when an opening presented it self for november 2012, I had to figure out where was the best spot to travel taking in consideration distance, budget and of course, dates available.

I asked around, I googled options, I researched everywhere and all quests ended up almost unanimously in one destination. It just so happens that november is not the best month to go photographing birds in North America, unless you are visiting Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico.  So when I saw that a full moon was also on the menu, the decisions was made pretty quickly

Bosque del Apache is about 1hr south of Albuquerque and only 8 miles aways from Socorro, NM. So after flying SDQ-MIA-DFW-ABQ I was eager to get to the refuge the next morning. I had invited my mother, a true adventurer and the culprit of my own insatiable desire to explore, to come along. My mother is not a photographer, but she is an avid observer of nature in all its forms. We woke up at 4am and by 4:45am we were already in front of 5K+ Sandhill Cranes in the pools just outside the refuge main entrance.

There is not much one can say about Bosque further than what photographs can, but let me just say that this is Disneyland for wildlife photographers. Just try to imagine over 50K snow geese, 10K sandhill cranes and several other species of birds and mammals. Just try to imagine photographing the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets mixed with blast-offs of thousands and thousands of geese. Just try to imagine getting there everyday at 5am and leaving at 7pm for 6 days straight, always with a big smile on your face.

Before arriving I feared that all photos taken at Bosque by the hundreds if not thousands of professional photographers that show up every migration season, looked exactly the same. But actually, this is quite impossible. I was there with probably 50 other photographers and I am pretty happy with my photos, and after looking around in the web, I think they are pretty genuine.

There is something quite strange about Bosque del Apache. For photographers and I think is that feeling that something is too good to be true… and actually it is. The fact that a place full of opportunities to make great memorable shots exist, is just outstanding. Is like going to graduate school and working at your dream job all at the same time.

I took 14K shots in 5 full days and I can’t wait to go back and try different things. This is a place I want to repeat and someday take my kids, hopefully each one of them will be holding a camera as well.

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_MGL9125 _MGL8918 _MGL8017 _MGL6673 _MGL6341_MGL6991 _MGL9540 _MGL9785To see more photos of my Adventures in New Mexico just click here.

CF6A1902Being from the Caribbean sounds a lot cooler than it is. I mean, of course we have great sandy beaches and the everlasting sun, yes we do have colourful flowers and exotic fruits and yes, as cliché as it may sound, we have a tendency of smiling a lot and worrying very little. But something I really crave, besides political stability that is, is having seasons. Yes seasons! You know, spring, summer, fall and winter; the cherry blossoms of spring, the beautiful foliage of fall and the white snowy vail of winter. Here in the Dominican Republic, we only have two seasons; summer and rain. So when my wife proposed we take a vacation Autumn was definitely it!

We chose, almost randomly, West Virginia and we chose very well. Not only the place was beautiful but the timing was also perfect. It was the peak of fall foliage and the leaves full of color. We hiked every morning and the birding was also wonderful, adding a few lifer’s to my list.

Of course I packed my camera, but because this was a couples trip, I did not dare to pack the big guns. You know, the 500mm4, tripod and else. But equipped with my Canon 5D mk III and the new 70-200mm f/2.8 II I was able to enjoy my self and couples time at the same time.

I really wish we had seasons in the Caribbean other than rain. Something to look forward to every 3 or 4 months. I would love to have constant change in my life and my surroundings. Every time I travel in fall or winter I secretly dream that climate change will bring winter to the islands of the Caribbean.

 

More photos can be seen at www.flickr.com/davalette

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